George’s Stag Do, Saturday 23rd
Kung Fu is driving me, Esther and Lisa to B&Q to fetch some pebbles for Lisa’s newly denuded back garden (aka Devo’s shit’n’go). We have spent the week crippling ourselves by digging up the turf and dumping it behind her outhouse so Devo can no longer use the back garden as his personal cesspit (correction: so he can use it as his personal cesspit, but so the cess doesn’t cling obstinately to unruly grass stalks and freakishly giant weeds).
As I daydream away, Lisa and Esther heave sacks of rock onto the trolley, like a post-feminist poster. The composition is ruined by Esther spitting;
“Why don’t you help instead of standing there, you lily livered girl!”
I’ve always wished that I had a trigger word to turn me into a man, like Marty McFly and his ‘chicken’-related freakouts. After today, it seems that ‘lily livered’ works pretty well.
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m slinging sacks of rocks around like a past-it Desperate Dan.
“Don’t break them, you idiot,” says Esther as I hurl them into the trolley.
“Put them in properly,” says Kung Fu, who never, ever, tells anyone what to do.
I don’t mind admitting I was scared, and I began rearrange the sacks, my red cheeks lighting my progress like mood-indicating LEDs set to ‘schadenfreude.’
Met Harvey and his Japanese wife Eiko at Sheffield train station.
They have had to fly the 9,650 miles (fact!) from Singapore to Bradford to get a Pakistani visa, in his ‘country of origin’. On first glance, I thought Harvey was even more full of himself than usual; second glance told me it was merely his white afro, grown to four times the usual size.
This is the man who customarily told me to “sort yourself out,” when my first pubic attempts at a wayward teenage hairstyle got beyond the regulated ‘no. 3 all over’.
Ha, how the mighty have fallen. And how silky their curls are.
We take brunch at Millennium Gallery, as a squadron of cadets and their officers march past.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” I deadpan, “we turned into a police state while you were away. Sorry.”
I like the way that sounds. I bet it’s really cool and sexy having all your civil liberties disavowed.
“I went on a school trip to the DMZ,” said Eiko, unfazed, “my friend fell over and when she looked up, a whole North Korean regiment had their assault rifles trained on her.”
I have nothing to compete with this. I consider saying that I threw half a snowball onto the roof of an unoccupied police car when I was 13. No, that won’t cut it.
I remember the burning question that I wanted to ask Harvey at 3am on some insomniac night months ago.
“You know how you came to the UK when you were 11, but we weren’t friends until we were 15, who was your BFF before me?”
“Mark Dour” he says, naming an odd semi-midget who had the unfortunate quality of being instantly forgettable.
“Aha!” I say, with the glee of someone who’s just found out that their lover’s exes are all dweebs.
“Well after him, I didn’t have any friends for a year.”
My glee turns to concern. Not for Harvey, mind: nobody wants to hear that their partner/BFF was undateable now do they?
Harvey and Eiko are travelling from the sublime to the ridiculous, aka Tokyo to Swansea (via Asia, Europe and South America). Harvey has been applying to do a PhD in something theoretical and poncey, and Swansea is the only place that’ll have him (“we’re not travelling to the US,” Harvey says, “coz they rejected me…”).
“The interview went really well,” he tells me, “and after a tour of the university, one of the professors took me aside.
‘You know what,’ he whispered, taking in the theoretical physics department in one gesture, ‘I don’t believe any of this nonsense!’
17:00 to Buddha-knows-when
Zeugma: ‘a figure of speech in which two or more parts of a sentence are joined with a single common verb or noun.’
In Zeugma’s restaurant, London Road, I am a figure of fun corralled between two or more manly dads.
It’s time for my regular social experiment: passing as a man. I pull my shirtsleeves down over my girly bracelets and lower my voice.
To the right of me is Demi’s dad, Paul, a skinhead scouser with a soft underbelly. Sitting across the table is George’s dad, looking like a jolly, gelled mafiosa. His catchphrase of “wonderful, wonderful,” (with the emphasis on the ‘wonder’) regularly punctuates the alcoholic fug throughout the night.
We are swapping stories of money and what it does to people.
George’s dad, Tony, has the rich baritone of a self-made man.
He tells us he was holidaying near San Marino in a hotel ‘full of stunningly beautiful Russian girls who refused to smile.’
They were the children of oiligarchs, bred with no manners, ‘pushing past me on the ladder up to the diving board,’ and generally being well-dressed arseholes.
“It’s sham capitalism,” I say, warming up. Tony’s eyes say ‘I’m listening’, but I haven’t thought what to say next.
“Erm, Communism failed and now there’s money floating about. No-one knows what to do with it coz they’ve never had it, so the mafia came and took over.” I think that makes sense.
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.
A minute later, listeners are whisked away to a Peugeot car dealer in Liverpool, who Tony says inherited a dealership from a man with connections with local warlords.
The previous owner used to leave a car parked on the forecourt with keys in the ignition. In the morning, it would always be back there, traces of blood and black market stains removed. The new dealer refused to carry on this habit, and had 4 cars smashed up; the police told him to put the car back on the forecourt…
That’s nothing, Demi’s dad Paul says, I was asked for protection money from a child in a multistory carpark.
‘Gimme a tenner and I’ll look after your car,’ the boy says.
‘S’alright, I’ve got a Rottweiler in the back,’ I tell him.
‘But can it put out a fire?’ the scrote says, eyes twinkling. I gave him a tenner for the cheek.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.
“How are you doing, stuck in the corner?” George asks when we meet in the toilets.
“Fine,” I say, quite pleased with my manly performance.
“I told Paul that one of my cousins here was gay,” he tells me, “and he leans forward and says ‘Is it ‘im?’ pointing in your direction.”
Oh well, at least I can get drunk. In the Riverside, I bump into Tony in the toilets and ask if he’s merry yet.
“Inexorably,” he replies and I give my jackal’s laugh, echoing off the porcelain. I bet if I ask him in another hour or so, he’ll say “Indubitably,” or some such Wodehousian alliteration. Tony’s sidekick is Alan, an old friend. He has the elastic face of a joker and together they giggle and ogle like a pair of twentysomethings.
We move on to Harlequins, a pub mislaid somewhere round the corner from the Riverside.
Mancunian Del and me are charged with dragging George, the paralytic stag, there. We take our eyes off him for a second, and he is suddenly riding a bike. Chained 3 feet off the floor on a fence. He does a wheelie and nearly cracks his head open.
“Come on,” we say, and drag him across the dual carriageway.
“I think it’s down here,” I say and we wander down a dark street. After a minute, George snorts in disgust,
“You don’t know where you’re fucking going,” he shouts, “I’m going back to the pub” and he legs it into the darkness.
My confusion is confounded by the sudden voice of God.
“GO AWAY! YOU’RE DRUNK!” God says, with the disappointed nasal authority of a train announcement.
“What the fuck is that?” Del whimpers.
“GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” the voice demands, and I try to locate the source.
Halfway up a dark block of flats, the blue death-glow of a huge flatscreen TV flickers in the gloom of an unlit room, casting shadows into the street. It stands to reason that the anally retentive voice of God could boom from the low rent recesses of a Sheffield hovel.
“GO AWAY, YOU’RE DRUNK! GO AWAY…NOW!!!”
This is too much.
We get the hell out of the road and the neighbourhood (and that’s a Zeugma…).
Harlequins is where the night starts to blur for me. At one point, Alan starts flicking the thick head of a pint of stout onto the even thicker head of a local, and I flee outside. Alan is just cheeky enough to point to me if the bruiser asked who did it…
In the cooling air of a Kelham Island backstreet, Tony tells me he used to live near here with the baby George, and the whump of the forges used to make it impossible to open the windows in summer.
“That’s the sound that industrial bands like Cabaret Voltaire tried to emulate,” I tell him.
“Oh, very good” he says, memory fusing with retrospective knowledge, “Wonderful, wonderful.”
If only everyone I spoke to thought the same.
As the booze bodycount rises, the group is stripped down to a hard core of 5 or so. Back at George’s American Psycho apartment, we chatter into the night like 33rpm girls .
Ah, this is it, true friendship; the sort that can outlast a million drunken megalomaniac impulses. In the words of Michael Jackson, with friends like these
“It don’t matter if you’re black or white,
Or a lily livered boy of questionable sexuality.”